With so many of today’s electronics operating on frequencies that were once used only by cordless phones, manufacturers have developed new technology to reduce interference so your calls are crisp, clear and uninterrupted. As result, there’s more you need to know before you choose a cordless phone. Pronto’s Cordless Phone Buying Guide will introduce you to the new technology and outline what you need to know before you buy.
2.4 GHz cordless phones are prone to the most interference. Choose them only if you live in a rural or other sparsely populated area and look for “wireless friendly” models so any wireless devices in your home don’t interfere with your calls. In urban and suburban areas, select 5.8GHz cordless phones or 1.9 DECT cordless phones, which are pricier, but operate on a frequency the FCC has reserved for voice communications.
Analog phones tend to have warmer voice tones, but are more easily intercepted or overheard by baby monitors, other phones and police scanners. Choose digital phones with DSS, FHSS or a DECT cordless phone for the best security. Beware of “phones with digital” as these are analog phones with digital accessories, such as an answering machine.
Look for a Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) or Nickel Medal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery for long-term battery life and longevity. Keep in mind that cordless phone batteries may cost $15-40 to replace. When shopping for a new cordless phone, make sure replacement batteries are readily available.
Caller-ID, speed dial, paging and speakerphone are common features to look for. Spending more will get you multiple phone lines, full-color displays that rival cell phones and built-in answering machines. If you don’t have a corded phone elsewhere in your house, look for models that have corded phones on the primary base so you don’t lose your phone during a power outage.
If you’re looking to ditch your land line, consider a VoIP cordless phone that works with your computer. If spotty cell reception at home is a problem, choose a DECT phone that’s compatible with your cell and sends calls from it to your land line. Multi-handset cordless systems make intercom and conference-call communications easy.
DECT stands for Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunication. This technology works in combination with 1.9GHz, the frequency reserved by the FCC for voice only to minimize interference and maximize security via digital encryption to prevent others from listening in on your line.
Digital Spread Spectrum technology is a digital security protocol which digitizes your voice over a slightly longer range and offers added security with a cipher key that scrambles conversations across several frequencies.
Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum is a specific type of digital security where the signal moves very quickly from one frequency to another. These signals are extremely difficult to intercept and are less subject to interference.
Gigahertz is a measure of radio frequency equal to one thousand million hertz. 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz are frequencies licensed for electronic use in the past few years. Those frequencies are now becoming crowded due to the number of electronic devices using them, so 2.4 and 5.8 GHz phones may experience interference. 1.9 GHz is a frequency that has recently been licensed for voice applications only.
Megahertz is a measure of radio frequency equal to one million hertz. 900 MHz is a frequency used by cordless phones, but RF bandwidth has become so crowded at lower frequencies that it is often prone to interference.
Cordless phones operate using Radio Frequency Signals. Many other electronics also use RF signals and may cause interference with cordless phone operation.
Megahertz (MHz) and Gigahertz (GHz) are measurements that refer to radio frequency (RF) signals used by cordless phones and a lot of other electronic gadgets. So many devices use RF that cordless phones experience signal interference if too much activity happens at once. Wireless networks, microwave ovens, wireless video game controllers and baby monitors, to name a few, all use or interfere with RF signals. The first step in choosing the cordless phone that’s right for you is evaluating the level of RF usage in your home and neighborhood.
Common cordless phone RF ranges are 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz. The 900Mhz cordless phones that were once standard have been discontinued because of interference problems. Most household interference affects 2.4GHz cordless phones, but they’re still a good—and inexpensive—choice if you live in a rural area, far from neighbors and RF interference. In urban and suburban settings, it’s best to choose a 5.8GHz cordless phone. If your budget is too limiting for this, look for a 2.4GHz cordless phone that is wireless network friendly. These cordless phones are designed to work with some wireless networks without interference.
If you’ve got the budget, you’ll get a minimum of interference with the latest RF technology, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunication (DECT), which operates on the 1.9GHz band that the Federal Communications Commission has reserved for voice.
If you’ve ever picked up the neighbor’s baby monitor, someone else’s conversation or the police scanner on your cordless phone, then you’re familiar with the interception and security issues analog cordless phones experience. This tendency toward interference makes analog cordless phones a poor choice for urban and other densely populated areas.
Digital cordless phones are more secure and less prone to interference than analog cordless phones, but some users report that voices sound hollow or tinny as compared to the voice quality on analog devices. If you want a digital cordless phone with enhanced security, look for models with Digital Spread Spectrum (DSS), which digitize your voice over a slightly longer range and offer added security with a cipher key that scrambles conversations across frequencies. To further reduce interference, look for cordless phones with Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS), which transmits and receives signals on several channels at once. If a signal is poor on one frequency, the clear signal on another frequency will compensate.
DSS is most often found on 5.8GHz cordless phones, but some 2.4GHz phones offer it as well. DECT cordless phones use their own encryption and authentication methods to ensure privacy. If you choose a digital cordless phone, be sure it’s listed as a digital phone and not “phone with digital,” which is an analog cordless phone with some digital features, such as an answering machine.
Most cordless phones offer users approximately three to five days of standby time, which is the amount of time the cordless will maintain a charge. Battery life during usage ranges from 5 to 16 hours, depending upon the manufacturer. Look for cordless phones with Li-ion or Ni-MH batteries to provide the best battery life. NiCad batteries tend to develop “charge memory” that becomes smaller over time until you’re forced to replace them. No matter which kind of battery you choose, check the cost of replacement batteries (usually between $15 and $40) and that they’re readily available. Batteries tend to last 1 to 2 years.
Standard cordless phone features include caller ID, speed dial or a built-in phone book, backlit keys and/or display, paging and speakerphone. Advanced cordless phone features are plentiful, but more often than not, the more features you want, the more the cordless phone will cost.
Advanced cordless phone features include multiple lines, full-color displays (similar to those on cell phones) and speakerphones built into the charger base that let you to make and receive calls without the handset. If you don’t have voicemail through your service provider or other answering machine, choose a model with a built-in answering machine to save on space. People who multitask while they’re on the phone should look for models with belt clips or holsters and a headset for mobile, hands-free talking.
If you don’t have a corded phone elsewhere in your house, look for cordless phones that offer a corded phone on the primary base unit. In the event of a power outage, you’ll still be able to make and receive calls provided your phone service remains intact.
The latest advances in cordless telephone features include VoIP-compatible models (Voice Over Internet Protocol) that don’t require an adaptor to connect the phone to the Internet. Some cordless phones offer Skype features to make placing and receiving calls over your computer even easier. For cell phone users who have spotty reception or service at home, perhaps the most exciting advancement are DECT cordless phones that work with your cell phone so your cell calls can be sent directly to your cordless phone handset.
Multi-handset cordless phone systems are a hot trend. Most manufacturers include a second handset with a separate base unit and offer you the option of adding more handsets as needed. The primary base unit requires a phone jack, but the expandable handsets can be plugged into any power source. Look for multi-handset cordless phones if you have a large home or if you’re outfitting a small office. Most multi-handset cordless phone systems allow you to call between handsets via an intercom function, do conference-calling with multiple handsets taking place in a call or place a call on hold so that someone can pick up from another handset.
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